Dealing with continuing discrimination in education

It’s a sad statistic.

“African-American girls are suspended more than any other students,” said Kriss Kemp Graham, assistant professor in the educational leadership program at Texas A&M Commerce.

The reasons for such suspensions were discussed during a workshop on avoiding discrimination in public schools, which took place Friday morning at the Central Texas College Planetarium, as part of the NAACP Texas State Conference.

Graham served as one of the panelists at the workshop. Phyllis Jones, NAACP Texas State Education chair, was the other.

In addition to her position with the Texas NAACP, Jones teaches in the preschool program for children with disabilities at Trimmier Elementary School in Killeen.

Jones described the imbalance when it comes to disciplining students across Texas. An African-American student could be labeled “bad,” while a caucasian student committing the same offense would be considered emotionally troubled.

“They are treated differently because of race,” Jones said.

Senobia Nelson of Killeen attended the workshop, adding, “Instead of detention, the African-American students are expelled.”

Often, that discipline occurs because of a student’s hairstyle or clothing.

Jones has looked at some district dress codes and found they haven’t been updated in years. She sees that as part of the problem.

Graham pointed out how teaching has changed. While past methods included an almost military style, where the students sat quietly and listened, more focus should be placed on engaging students.

“I want to see engagement,” Graham said.

She also sees the need for “differentiated instruction,” where each child’s needs are met by tailoring the lessons to their particular learning style.

Jones spoke strongly about needing the “zero tolerance” policy repealed by the Texas Legislature.

“Parents didn’t understand what the policy meant,” she said. “It caused more discrimination among our people.”

“If a child keeps sneezing in class, and the teacher is annoyed, that child can be removed from class under the policy,” Jones said.

When it comes to removing the imbalance in discipline between students of different races, it’s all about respect, awareness and equality.

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